By Ashis Ray
Trent Bridge (Nottingham), Aug 3 (IANS) The ability of Indias batsmen to cope with pressure and their bowlers capability of exploiting the conditions hold the key to the five-Test series against England in the second edition of the World Test Championship commencing on Wednesday.
After 2011, when India were whitewashed, their Test match batting has revolved around Virat Kohli, Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara. They have, however, flattered to deceive, losing 1-3 in 2014 and 1-4 three years ago.
Rahane’s shot selection and Pujara’s long periods of strokelessness are matters of concern. Of course, this time they are bolstered by Rohit Sharma; but with both Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal unavailable due to injuries, there’s a conundrum about who will open the innings with him.
K.L. Rahul has a decent record as an opener. But if he is going to keep wickets, it might be wiser not to overburden him. Admittedly, wicket-keeper-batsman Farokh Engineer, now settled in England after an extended career with Lancashire, opened in 1967 (when India lost all three Tests) with a degree of success, but batted in the middle order in 1971 (when India triumphed in a Test and series in England for the first time).
Hanuma Vihari is an option, for he is technically correct, but not a habitual opener.
Climate change has converted what is generally the hottest and driest part of the year in England to frequent monsoonic rains. This could mean the ball will move more for quickly at Trent Bridge than is normally the case, when the pitch here is pacey, but true and good for batting, if you have the technique to tackle velocity and bounce.
Pictures of the ground tweeted by BCCI are misleading, for they were taken before the wicket was mowed. Nonetheless, the final product could be slightly greener than what it generally is at Trent Bridge.
Head groundsman Steve Birks was significantly tight-lipped when asked how he though the wicket will behave.
In the past, it made sense to play two spinners, especially if one of them, like Ravindra Jadeja, is rated as an all-rounder in English conditions, which Ravichandran Ashwin is probably not.
Had the talismanic Ben Stokes not withdrawn from the series, England would definitely have boasted four fast bowlers. They still might; but could err on the side of playing an extra batsman — after their batting failure against New Zealand in June — and consequently settle for three fast bowlers and a spinner.
Number seven in the batting order could be too high for the left-handed Sam Curran, who made a spirited debut against India in 2018. Indeed, the series could witness a handing over of the baton from the old firm of James Anderson and Stuart Broad (a local boy) to a younger generation of swing and seam bowlers, with Mark Wood providing extra speed. Fast-medium Ollie Robinson was promising against New Zealand.
Which begs the question: How successfully will the Indian pacemen ply their trade? None, except Shardul Thakur, has a natural outswinger as his stock delivery. Ishant Sharma, after his stint with Sussex in 2017, has deceptively developed an inswinger with an action that could be mistaken for a leg-cutter.
Neither Mohammed Shami nor Jasprit Bumrah are deliberate swing bowlers. The former’s deviation in the air is in fact more evident when the ball reverses. Yet both must start the series as India’s leading quick bowlers.
If India take the risk of weakening their batting by resting Jadeja, then Mohammed Siraj is fancied for inclusion. In any case it’s going to be arduous back-to-back tests over just six weeks. Therefore, rotation of fast bowlers is on the cards, with Siraj as well as Umesh Yadav getting a look in, perhaps Thakur as well.
India’s first appearance at Trent Bridge, home of Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club and coalminer-cum-express bowler Harold Larwood, wrongfully maligned for being the executioner of England captain Douglas Jardine’s bodyline theory in Australia in 1932-33, was in 1959. They were eclipsed by an innings.
In the five encounters in the modern era, though, in 1996, 2002, 2007, 2011, 2014 and 2018, India won under Rahul Dravid in 2007 and Kohli led them to victory the last time the two teams met.
(Senior cricket writer Ashis Ray is a broadcaster and author of the book ‘Cricket World Cup: The Indian Challenge’)